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    Posted February 25, 2014 by
    Phoenix, Arizona
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Your child's travel firsts

    Surprising First in Italy for Seasoned Travelers



    It was on a rainy day in Italy when our two-year-old son and five-year-old daughter discovered a substance so horrible—so alarming—that we try to warn other parents about it when we can. This substance lurks everywhere, even the building inside which we took refuge from a downpour this particular night in April 2008.

    We’d flown into Zurich, Switzerland, and had been on an otherwise lovely road trip for a few days through the Alps and into northeastern Italy, eventually turning southwest toward Tuscany. We decided to stop in a town en route and take a day trip by train, but it included a much longer than expected walk to the station (otherwise we might have driven), with no stroller. I was actually happy with the long walk, mainly because it would help to wear the kids out and everyone could get a good night’s sleep! Or so I’d thought.

    After about 12 hours of train rides, trudging around in the rain, two broken umbrellas, dead camera batteries, a lost blankie, and whiny-and-tired-from-walking kids, I was done. I was more than ready for a comfy bed and anything but Italian food (which I am still surprised to hear myself say), mainly because dinner in Italy always became a 2-hour event, minimum. I wanted a short meal and a long sleep. And then, there they were: I saw the giant golden arches as we turned the corner toward our hotel. Like an angel’s glowing halo, there was my savior. I was too exhausted to feel ashamed of myself for having this thought.

    My husband, echoing my thoughts, muttered something about ‘we should be ashamed of ourselves’ as we entered the McDonald’s, but the children had promptly stopped grumbling, so I was happy again. He’d lived in Italy previously and spoke enough of the language to manage, so he ordered for all of us while I took the kids to the bathroom. I’d asked him to order juice for the kids and a Diet Coke for me. The irony of drinking a diet soda whilst consuming a fatty burger and greasy fries was not lost on me.

    We inhaled our wonderfully fast American food and talked about how horrible we were for doing so, and I started sipping my soda. I realized it was orange juice. ‘Funny, they got my order wrong, just like at home!’ I thought. No biggie. I just wanted to eat and go. The sound of my two-year-old loudly slurping the last sips of his drink broke my thoughts, and I glanced over as the final beads of brown liquid raced up his straw. Apparently, both he and my daughter had drunk small Diet Cokes. I didn’t make an issue of it, because, “Eh, we’re on vacation…” The only soda they’d ever had in their whole lives had been the clear, un-caffeinated stuff—and even that was a rare treat—but a few days of vacation had softened us. It was only a small amount of caffeine, after all. Surely it wouldn’t hurt. Little did I know what was coming!

    The kids were uncharacteristically peppy for 9:00pm as we walked the few more blocks to the hotel. By the time we got into the lobby, they had so much energy that I prayed they would settle down so we could get some sleep. A minute later, I worried they were going to hurt themselves as they bounced from wall to wall in the elevator like pinballs! I had to body-block all the elevator buttons so we didn’t end up stopping at several floors! By the time we reached our room, the transformation from child to gremlin was complete. Both kids started sprinting around like maniacs, jumping from bed to bed with the fervor and dexterity to match any Olympian’s. My husband and I were in shock at the scene. These were NOT our children.

    It did not matter that we were warning them, raising our voices, threatening them, and eventually physically grabbing them to protect them from themselves—la caffeina had taken a firm grip on our otherwise well-behaved children. They were OUT. OF. CONTROL. We stationed ourselves on opposite sides of the room to catch the crazy little runners and point them back the other way. They thought it was hilarious as we cartoonishly swooped them up, turned them with legs still moving, and set them back down to earth. They would hit the ground running, all frenzied and wild-eyed with reckless abandon, and race toward each of us. This went on and on.

    Finally, at almost 11:00pm, we persuaded them to climb into bed to watch cartoons and hopefully settle down for sleep. The shows were in Italian, but we were desperate. To my surprise, the usual eye-rubbing, yawning, and asking for the bedtime ‘liquid gold’ that is water did not happen. Once their heads hit pillows, my gremlins immediately poofed back into children, and they passed out cold. My husband and I turned toward each other and sighed the same phrase in unison: “Never again…”

    The next day after lunch, we added another “first” to the kids’ travel experience: GELATO! Thankfully, this amazing frozen Italian treat made up for the entire caffeine-gremlin ordeal…well, almost.

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